2013 Final Grades – Defense

Once again, if you weren’t with us for the “2013 Final Grade – Offense“we must, before assigning grades, set the parameters.

If we are to judge the 2013 Colorado football team based upon its final record, the Buffs don’t measure up. A 4-8 record, by any objective measurement, is a failure.

If we are to judge the 2013 Colorado football team based upon its improvement over the 2012 team, the Buffs come out looking great. Measured against the worst team in the history of the school, well, it wasn’t hard to look good.

So, the best way to judge the 2013 Colorado football team is based upon the expectations we had for this team back in August, and whether the Buffs met those preseason expectations.

Defensive Line – D-plus

The numbers are not pleasant.

Colorado was 101st in the nation in rushing defense, surrendering over 200 yards per game, giving up almost five yards per carry.

Colorado was 101st in the nation in sacks, with just 18 the whole season (even the 2012 team had 21 sacks).

So, what went wrong?

The Buffs couldn’t really blame the lack of production on injuries, as Chidera Uzo-Diribe started every game at one defensive end position, Josh Tupou started every game at defensive tackle and Juda Parker started ten games at the other defensive end position. The only position with any change in starters was the nose tackle position, with Nate Bonsu and Justin Solis splitting the starts this fall.

Chidera Uzo-Diribe, for the most part, held up his end all season, being named to the Ted Hendricks Award mid-season Watch List (one of only 22 players nationally). The senior defensive end, despite being double-teamed for much of the fall, led the team with 11 tackles for loss, including four sacks. Uzo-Diribe also led the team with 11 quarterback pressures, and finished the season with more tackles, 46, than any other defensive lineman.

The problem for Colorado, though, was that the Buffs received very little production from any other member of the defensive line. While Uzo-Diribe had 11 quarterback pressures, no other lineman had more than three. Other players did have their moments – sophomore defensive Samson Kafovalu had three sacks in only 184 plays on the field (Uzo-Diribe was on the field for 739 plays), while freshman De’Jon Wilson and Jimmie Gilbert earned valuable experience in limited action.

But, on the whole, the CU defensive line did not produce the results which were expected. Uzo-Diribe was good, as expected, but he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to be great as his supporting cast was not up to competing at the Pac-12 level.

Linebackers – C

A year ago, none of us knew the name Addison Gillam.

No shame in that … very few people did.

A member of the San Jose State Recruiting Class of 2012, Gillam was lightly recruited two-star recruit with no other FBS offers than that which came from the Spartans.

Gillam didn’t enroll at San Jose State, however, grey-shirting in the fall of 2012, a move which proved to be much to the good fortune of the University of Colorado. When San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre was hired by Colorado last December, Gillam decided to follow his coach to CU, signing on to live in Boulder for the next four to five years … sight unseen.

The rest of the story you know.

A fixture on many freshman All-American teams, Gillam went on to become the first freshman to ever lead the Buffs in tackles over the course of a season, finishing with 119 (Derrick Webb was second on the team, with 99). Gillam had ten tackles for loss (including three sacks), led the team in “tackles for zero”, with 11 (no one else had more than five), and third down stops, with 15.

Other than Gillam, however, the Buffs’ linebackers did not have a stellar season.

Derrick Webb was productive – his 99 tackles were up from a team-leading 88 in 2012 – but Webb produced few game-changing plays. After Gillam and Webb, Woodson Greer was next in line for tackles by a linebacker … with 34 (11th on the team).

The defense runs through the linebackers, and, as a unit, the CU linebackers were not what Buff fans were hoping for last August.

Points allowed were down this year, down from 46.0 points per game in 2012 to 38.3 points per game this season. A touchdown less per game is certainly better, but it is far from good.

Don’t tell anyone, but … the 38.3 points per game allowed average was the third worst total in the last 123 years (the 1-10 1980 team gave up 41.0 points per game for second place on this ignoble list).

Defensive backs – C

The 2013 season started out with great promise by the Colorado secondary.

Defensive back Greg Henderson had a game-changing fourth quarter fumble return for a touchdown against Colorado State in the opener, with the Buffs holding the Rams to 201 yards passing despite 39 pass attempts.

Then, against Central Arkansas in the home opener, Henderson had another return for a touchdown, this time on an interception, with fellow defensive back Jered Bell tying the score in the fourth quarter with another pick six. The Bears picked up 280 yards through the air, but it took 55 passes to get there.

The Buffs, which had three interceptions as a team in 2012, had three interceptions on the afternoon against Central Arkansas.

For once, the CU secondary was being mentioned in articles without the preface “much maligned”.

After the 2-0 opening, however, the Buff secondary could not sustain the momentum when put up against Pac-12 quarterbacks. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Arizona’s B.J. Denker – three Pac-12 quarterbacks who all earned Pac-12 Offensive Player-of-the-Week honors after facing the Colorado defense.


Strides were made, however.

After finishing with three interceptions for all of 2012, the Buffs had ten interceptions as a team in 2013. Defensive backs Greg Henderson, Jered Bell and Parker Orms were third, fourth, and fifth respectively on the team in tackles (with 68, 67, and 66 on the year). Freshman Chidobe Awuzie was sixth on the team in tackles, with 59, coming on 643 plays from scrimmage, the third highest total number of plays for a freshman in school history (behind only Addison Gillam’s 838 plays this season, and Greg Henderson’s 761 last fall).

Still, the 2013 campaign was supposed to be the season in which the CU secondary regained its footing. With a combination of experienced upper-classmen (Parker Orms, Greg Henderson, Jered Bell) and under-classmen who had already seen plenty of action (Kenneth Crawley, Marques Mosley), improvement was expected.

But it only moderate improvement was made.

In 2012, the Buffs gave up 3,150 passing yards.

In 2013, the Buffs gave up 3,114 passing yards.

There is still plenty of work to be done.

Special Teams – B-minus

The Buffs appeared to be in good shape with respect to the kicking game coming into the 2013 season.

Two-year starter Will Oliver returned as kicker. Two-year starter Darragh O’Neill returned as punter. Three-year starter Ryan Iverson returned as long-snapper. Justin Castor returned to perform kickoff duties. It did not appear as is the new coaching staff would have to re-invent the wheel on special teams – at least as far as the kickers were concerned (we’ll get to the return game in a moment).

But then the wheels started to fall off.

A wrench was thrown into the CU special teams plans when kickoff-specialist Justin Castor was injured before the season began, forcing Will Oliver into that role.

Oliver did not let the new job interfere with his primary task of kicking field goals … at least not initially. The junior opened the season with four field goals against Colorado State, including a 52-yarder early in the fourth quarter to give the Buffs the lead for good. Oliver made 11-of-13 field goal attempts the first half of the season, with his only misses coming from beyond 50 yards. He then tailed off, however, making only six of his final 11 attempts the remainder of the campaign.

Junior Darragh O’Neill did not have as good a season in 2013 as he had in 2012. O’Neill’s average went down from 43.51 yards per punt, with a 39.3 yard net average, to 40.5 yards per punt, and a 36.5 yard per punt average. With no other punters on the roster, however, there were no other options.

The return teams aspect of the CU special teams got off to an awful start to the 2013 season, but did improve over the course of the season. The Buffs surrendered a long punt return for a touchdown against CSU, changing the complexion of that game. Then the Buffs gave up an 88-yard kickoff return the following week against Central Arkansas, giving the Bears unwanted momentum.

But then, slowly … but surely … the return units teams started turning things around. After being ranked 123rd in the nation in kickoff coverage the first three weeks of the season, the Buffs were in the top ten nationally in that category over the final nine games. Punt return yardage allowed was cut in half after a rough start, going from 13.4 yards per return the first three games to less than seven yards per return the final nine games.

The return game also improved … at least on kickoffs. Freshman Ryan Severson emerged as the primary kick returner, with 795 yards on 36 attempts. Overall, Colorado was a more than respectable 43rd nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 22.60 yards per return.

Punt returns? Still abysmal. Colorado only had nine punt returns the entire season, with Nelson Spruce handling all nine returns, for a grand total of 45 yards.

Overall Grade – C

Colorado was projected to be a three-to-four win team in 2013, and the Buffs delivered four victories. The 4-8 record, though, comes with an asterisk, with the Buffs defeating Charleston-Southern in a game which was a makeup for the lost Fresno State game (a likely loss, what with the Bulldogs going on to win the Mountain West Conference).

Still, the Buffs defeated the teams on the schedule they were supposed to beat. A small step, but progress nonetheless from prior seasons.

The hope in August was that the Buffs, while not necessarily taking down Pac-12 powers, would at least stay competitive. It would be an incorrect statement to say that this mission was accomplished, as the Buffs were dominated in several games, and lost touch with conference opponents in the second half of other games. But the Buffs did have competitive spells against Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, USC and Utah.

Not a great season. But not altogether a bad one, either.

For better or worse, the 2013 season was about what we expected.

That works out to a grade of “C” for the year.

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